Title: What to Say Next
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.
Kit: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.
David: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.
When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively unpopular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?
First things first, a disclaimer: I received a physical Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of this book as part of my participation in a blog tour hosted by Bibliophile Soprano – this, however, neither influences my opinion nor the content of my review in any way. Huge thanks to Fay and the publisher for this opportunity!
Let me quickly throw this out there: What to Say Next is a wonderfully written, heartwarmingly captivating novel that I will actively recommend other people to read! It is meant to be read and passed on to another pair of hands. By that, I don’t mean that it’s a story you should only read once; rather, it is one that leaves such a monumental impact that you feel compelled to share it with someone else. (Speaking of sharing, in light of the blog tour, copies of What to Say Next are being given away!)
Kit and David were both fascinating and admirable in their own right. Their personalities did not necessarily contrast with each other, despite them being from opposite ends of the high school popularity spectrum. Instead, their characters were sharply distinct but, at the same time, oddly complementary. The dynamics of Kit and David’s relationship was definitely one of the plenteous highlights of the story. Their transition from unlikely table companions to even unlikelier confidants to one another progressed more naturally than smoothly, which made the development, together with Kit and David’s little awkward stumbles, all the more engaging to read about. I really appreciated how they did not necessarily overcome the awkwardness but rather grew even closer because of it. It was a refreshing take on high school friendships, to say the least.
The relationships between them and the secondary characters were equally remarkable. I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between David and his older sister. Unconditional sibling love is so pure and moving, and that was exactly what David and Lauren exemplified all throughout. They always sought to bring out the best in each other and always made sure that the other was well taken care of. I really liked how David’s parents were all kinds of wonderful and supportive as well. In contrast to this, Kit’s relationship with her mother was arguably moving in its own way. Although I did think that the tension between Kit and her mother occasionally bordered on melodramatic, it was still pretty interesting and opened up a lot of discourse.
The themes the novel chose to explore were delicate topics – the grief that stems from losing a parent at a young age, bullying, and autism. All of which were, I believe, carefully handled in the book. It’s evident that the author did a fair share of research as she wrote this. She was able to present these topics in a realistic and serious manner without using much too solemn undertones and without watering them down by romanticizing.
From the reviews I’ve read, people often regard What to Say Next as a romance or as a love story, but I honestly do not see it that way. Yes, an attraction surpassing the boundaries of friendship did develop. However, the transcending essence of the story is more of a coming of age between two struggling and conflicted individuals who eventually find the solace they need in each other’s company, not in their romantic feelings. It’s about growth, acceptance, and comfort. What to Say Next touches the process of grief, sorrow, and healing, and even more so, courageously and poignantly navigates the shaky balance between opening up and holding back. And I think that’s definitely something we can all relate to.
Excerpt from the book:
“What word? Penis?”
“Do you prefer member? Shlong? Wang? Johnson?” I ask. “Dongle, perhaps?”
“I would prefer we not discuss your man parts at all.”
“Wait, should I text Kit immediately and clarify that I do in fact have man parts?” I pick up my phone and start typing. “Dear Kit. Just to be clear. I have a penis.”
“Oh my God. Do not text her. Seriously, stop.” Miney puts her coffee down hard. She’ll climb over the table and tackle me if she has to.